Duties and functions

Military deployment in 36 dangerous states

A revelation by the Chief of the Defense Staff, Lucky Irabor, that 80% of Nigerian Armed Forces personnel are currently deployed in all 36 states of the federation to perform police duties highlights the grossly anomalous security architecture from the country. This trend undermines security and civilian institutions and jeopardizes the country’s fragile democracy. The president, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retired), should act quickly to save the three from irreparable damage.

Some analysts fear that serious damage has already been done. “I look forward to the day when all of us soldiers return to barracks and engage in essential military duties – defending the territorial integrity of our nation,” Irabor said during the 21st Century Chronicle panel discussion. “Today, almost 70-80% of our troops ‘are’ in the field all year round, and I think we need to start reshaping it.” This task is urgent.

Alarmingly, the vogue exposes officers to politics. It weakens civilian law enforcement agencies, and it weakens the military institution itself by diverting personnel, resources and attention from its primary duty of home defence.

The army, unlike the police, is not trained to enforce the law and its interaction with the civilian population should ideally be minimal. In the Northeast, where a large-scale insurrection is underway, and the state of emergency declared, the military deployment is necessary and justified. Having troops deployed everywhere else engaged and often taking the lead in routine law enforcement tasks is not. Anomaly has become the norm; with disastrous consequences.

Chief of Naval Staff Awwal Gambo admits that the Nigerian Navy, which has the primary role of protecting the country’s waterways from piracy and other related external threats, is distracted. “In the Center-North, we have a hundred men to fight against banditry, kidnappings and all problems related to insecurity,” he said. Meanwhile, ships bound for Nigeria are the most attacked in the Gulf of Guinea.

Nearly 23 years after the end of military rule, short-sighted successive administrations have failed to restrict the military to its primary functions. In Lagos State, OP MESA, a combined team of Police, Nigerian Air Force, NN and Nigerian Army, undertakes operations that are entirely civilian in nature. Outrageously, reports indicate that there are approximately 26 OP MESA units across the country.

The roles of the armed forces in a democracy, as set out in a NATO document, are to defend the country, to provide humanitarian aid in the event of disaster and accident. Everywhere, the army is also a reserve force when disorder overwhelms civilian law enforcement forces. A distinctive element in a democracy is that at all times the military is subordinate to civilian authority and oversight. Even when deployed in homeland security operations, military units are under the overall direction of the police. It is dangerously reversed in Nigeria, where once out of their barracks, soldiers rise above the law, treat civilians and police with contempt and act with violent impunity.

Section 217(2) of the 1999 Constitution clearly defines the duties of the military: to defend Nigeria against external aggression; maintain its territorial integrity and secure its borders against any violation on land, at sea or in the air; suppress insurrection and assist the civil authorities in restoring order when called upon to do so by the President, “but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly; and the exercise of any other functions prescribed by an act of the National Assembly.

NASS should immediately fulfill its constitutional role to end this dangerous practice. The army is trained for war, not for civil affairs. Inevitably, friction, violence and human rights abuses ensued. Massacres have taken place, including in Odi, Rivers State, and Zaki Biam, Benue State. Politics has crept in and, in general, the army is overwhelmed. Training and exercises, essential to any effective army, have suffered.

Soldiers don’t have to chase suspects of online fraud, enforce dress codes, control traffic, raid or guard private homes. These interventions demean the institution and foster indiscipline. Thus unleashed, the soldiers became thugs, inflicting gross human rights violations against civilians.

Wrongly deployed during the 2020 #EndSARS protests, soldiers opened fire on unarmed youth protesters at the Lekki toll, killing scores. Nigerian leaders should learn from the country’s sad history. The first coup in January 1966 was influenced by undue military intervention in civilian affairs. Soldiers got a taste of politics when they were drafted in to quell protests in the Middle Belt and the violence that accompanied the October 1965 rigged elections in the defunct Western Region. Recklessly, soldiers are still routinely deployed for elections today.

A ruling by the Federal High Court, later upheld by the Court of Appeal, that the military has no role in the elections, was ignored.

During the 2019 gubernatorial and House of Assembly elections in Rivers State, the Independent National Electoral Commission accused the soldiers of invading collection centers in Okrika and Ikwerre, snatching the result sheets. Worryingly, Army Chief of Staff Farouk Yahaya has already promised to provide internal security in the 2023 elections. When will this aberration end? India, with its population of over 1.2 billion and its own internal security problems, does not field an army for elections. On the contrary, its central armed police forces comprising the police and other paramilitary services provide internal security.

Truly, Nigeria faces existential challenges of insurgency, banditry, armed robbery, militancy and terrorism across the country. But ironically, there are not enough police. More than 70% of officers are attached to VIPs and unauthorized persons. Additionally, it is understaffed and its workforce is poorly trained, ills that make the Force so ineffective. With approximately 370,000 people for a population of 211 million, it cannot meet the United Nations recommendation of a 340:100,000 police/citizen ratio.

The single police force format deprives states and localities of the power to police their own territories. Irrationally, in the ongoing futile constitutional amendment exercise, the state police have been voted down by federal legislators.

The federal government must therefore undertake urgent reforms of the police, recruit and equip the necessary personnel. The army must face up to its fundamental duty to protect the territorial integrity of the nation. The “doctrine of necessity” should be immediately invoked to enable the state police to provide effective protection of life and property, the primary function of governance.

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